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In the food safety wiki question we recommend not keeping eggs at room temperature for more than 2-hours.

Eggs can sweat at room temperature and promote salmonella growth (which appears on the shell more often than inside). From USDA:

A cold egg left out at room temperature can sweat, facilitating the movement of bacteria into the egg and increasing the growth of bacteria. Refrigerated eggs should not be left out more than 2 hours.

From BC Centre for Disease Control:

Never leave cooked eggs or egg dishes at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.

and FDA requires egg refrigeration immediately and for retail. They also say:

SAFE HANDLING INSTRUCTIONS: To prevent illness from bacteria: keep eggs refrigerated, cook eggs until yolks are firm, and cook foods containing eggs thoroughly.

This literally means you shouldn't eat eggs sunny side up and plenty of restaurants serve them with regular eggs (you can pasteurize eggs with yolks remaining liquid).

The note about Refrigerated Eggs suggests that the USDA is aware that eggs keep at room temperature from the beginning may be safe. Most countries in the EU allow selling of eggs at room temperature. SA Answer: Howard McGee in "On Food & Cooking" says that egg quality deteriorates as much in one day at room temperature as it does four days under refrigeration. We were told the same thing in school.

Also:

The reason that eggs in the US are typically sold under refrigeration is because they are washed with warm water and detergent to remove the large amount of bacteria that are deposited on the shell while being layed. Once the cuticle is removed the egg becomes more porous.

What should be the recommendation then?

  • With respect to Darin who posted it, the idea that eggs are more porous after being washed and that this is somehow a safety issue really requires some documentation or citation. I don't consider it credible as a bald assertion. – SAJ14SAJ Jun 14 '13 at 15:50
  • The FDA is also often quite conservative. The refrigeration recommendation for eggs is an example; but note also they stay at high quality much longer under refrigeration. – SAJ14SAJ Jun 14 '13 at 15:51
  • lol. "they stay at high quality much longer under refrigeration." is also a bald assertion ;) some say the cold temperature has ill-effects on yolk quality. Anyhow, the bigger issue here is: "should shell eggs really be thrown out after two hours at room temperature?" seems like a horrible waste given than most of the world keeps their eggs at room temp. – MandoMando Jun 14 '13 at 16:10
  • Balderdash. That first link is crap. Comments on a blog have no credibility. I myself used to keep eggs on the counter when I used them rapidly. But there is no doubt they last longer under refrigeration, to assert otherwise is grasping at straws. I don't think anyone has asserted that eggs in the shell absolutely must be refrigerated--I wrote the answer to the egg storage question. – SAJ14SAJ Jun 14 '13 at 16:18
  • This one, which at least seems scientific, does not indicate degredation of quality at low temperature: agrifoodpublishers.com/main/… – SAJ14SAJ Jun 14 '13 at 16:27
  • The journal article finds that washing does not damage the egg cuticle: eggnology.com/JFP-Egg-Washing.pdf – SAJ14SAJ Jun 14 '13 at 16:33
  • Of interest, and perhaps more balanced, EU considering requiring washing: foodproductiondaily.com/Processing/Eggs-washed-or-unwashed – SAJ14SAJ Jun 14 '13 at 16:40
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General answer, for all food safety questions: recommend whatever the government food safety agency recommends. If reasonable, you can go on to explain what the risks are of not following that advice - obviously sometimes it's more dangerous than other times.

Yes, the government is often overly paranoid, but it's not our job to question their recommendation. This is stuff that can get people sick or dead. If 1000 people read a post here saying to ignore the official advice, one of those people could well be the unlucky one who gets food poisoning. We want to give advice that keeps everyone safe, not just most people. Go with what the government says, not with what you read in one study, what doesn't get you sick, or what works 99% of the time.

As a member of the community, I have long commented on and downvoted answers giving probably-but-not-always safe advice - I would encourage others to be equally vigilant. Yes, in my own kitchen, I do things that aren't FDA-approved. But I do not want our site to tell arbitrary numbers of people to do the same thing. It'll get people hurt.

If someone asks a specific question about specific risks, feel free to dig into the science - for example, how much the risks from salmonella in a contaminated egg increase over time at room temperature. But if someone asks "what's safe?", stick to official recommendations. You could perhaps provide additional detail about the risks of not following that advice (some things are riskier than others) - but please don't give potentially dangerous advice.

The only reason we're having this discussion about eggs is that they're a unique case where different governments make different recommendations. The FDA says to refrigerate, so that's what we should say for people in the US; the EU apparently has different ideas, which we can also pass along too.

  • That's my point, this being a worldwide site, the term "the government" has little meaning. I agree with no-willy-nilly suggestions, but the FDA isn't a world wide arbiter. the EU apparently has different ideas, which we can also pass along too. I think that's the solution here, they're another major source and would provide inclusivity. – MandoMando Jun 14 '13 at 20:32
  • @MandoMando Like I said, this is a special case - generally the US and EU agree, and I believe they're the largest serious government food safety agencies (and also most of our users), so we generally can just cite one or the other and be done with it. – Cascabel Jun 14 '13 at 20:35
  • Indeed, it is a special case, which is why I posted the question ;) otherwise I agree that making a reference to any major body is fine. – MandoMando Jun 14 '13 at 20:41
  • @MandoMando Sure. For this special case, the reason I'm so determined to prevent people from arguing against the FDA's advice here is that they say 142,000 illnesses each year are caused by consuming eggs contaminated with Salmonella. That's not the kind of thing we want to be messing with here. – Cascabel Jun 14 '13 at 20:48
  • And 108,000 in Europe. And they leave their eggs out ;) I think the balanced solution is to warn the readers and provide information that some jurisdictions don't have a problem with eggs being out. – MandoMando Jun 14 '13 at 21:12
  • @MandoMando Yeah, not so much about comparing numbers (could be that US farms are just dirty and contaminated) as saying it's something that happens a lot (that's a case per 2000 people a year!) so I'm not inclined to start possibly increasing that risk. – Cascabel Jun 14 '13 at 22:00
  • @MandoMando: If you mean the exact phrase, "the government", has no meaning, then sure. But it's perfectly valid to reference the FDA/USDA and completely unreasonable to expect members to reference other agencies simply for counterpoint, especially when they're known to all agree on most things. If a second answer gets submitted mentioning that the EFSA has different recommendations, and gets upvoted, that's great too. And if someone wants to merge the two answers, that's even better. But there's nothing wrong with submitting an answer referencing just one. – Aaronut Jun 15 '13 at 14:08
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    @MandoMando: It's not even just geographical area that sometimes makes a difference; food safety practices can change over time. For example, once it was determined in North America that trichinella had been virtually eliminated, many of the recommended temperatures for pork were changed. Concerns over specific zoonotic diseases (BSE, avian flu, etc.) may further alter guidelines either temporarily or permanently. But that's why we have these agencies, to keep up with all of that, and we really shouldn't second-guess them on a site where thousands of people will read the answers. – Aaronut Jun 15 '13 at 14:11
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Don't forget that we are not an official body and we don't need to have a party line. If the world disagrees about what is safe, then we will probably get conflicting answers too. This is completely OK.

It is what the voting system is here for. Answers which are obviously crazy should get downvoted. As for the rest, if we have two camps (e.g. sunny side up not safe because FDA says so vs. ssu safe because everybody eats them with no problems), I expect that proponents of each side should state their sources and/or state the assumptions under which their argument holds, at the latest when they get downvotes from the other camp.

Indeed, if we were to start censoring people because their opinion deviates from a line we have decided to follow, I would get seriously worried about the site. If there is a conflict, it is best for the public to be informed of both sides.

As for answers like "I once ate meat left on the counter for a month and nothing happened, so leaving meat out is safe for a month", I still think that they should not be censored by deleting either. Instead, they should be downvoted by anybody who thinks them incorrect - and the crazier the answer, the better this works.

  • don't need to have a party line, yes! for a community wiki answer, though, we might have to do better explaining the different views to users. If a website told me I shouldn't eat ssu, they'd lose credibility in my eyes. – MandoMando Jun 14 '13 at 20:38
  • I think I may've once deleted an old low-quality unsafe answer because it wasn't collecting votes anymore and somehow hadn't gotten a big negative score. I tend to think when our voting system fails, we still have an obligation to protect people. I suppose it might be better to edit a disclaimer into the post (thus bumping it and hopefully collecting more votes). – Cascabel Jun 14 '13 at 22:03
  • @MandoMando this is a different problem. People think that the question "should I eat it" and "is it safe" is the same. No, it isn't. And I know that people ask for the second when they mean the first, but the problem is that the first is unanswerable, so we only answer the second. I have no idea how to educate them of the difference. – rumtscho Jun 15 '13 at 9:56
  • @rumtscho You've touched on a problem with encouraging disagreement. Often there can be disagreement simply because of different risk tolerance, but it won't be presented as such - people are more likely to talk about reasons and studies, but not do any sort of overall risk evaluation like the government agencies do. (It's hard!) So while I agree that debate and voting is cool, I think this is prone to the same sort of unproductive debate as nutrition, except if we get it wrong, people can get really sick. – Cascabel Jun 15 '13 at 14:57
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There is no "egg safety problem."

The evidence is overwhelming that the US safety practices for eggs are at least no worse than those in Europe not counting Sweden, where eggs are washed.

The EU is considering requiring egg washing per this article in Food Production Daily.

There is no credible evidence presented (or that I found, given the difficulty of proving a negative) that washing eggs harms safety, and there is evidence that it does not: Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 74, No. 10, 2011, Pages 1649–1654, doi:10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-11-013.

There is also considerable evidence that refrigerated eggs degrade in quality on the order of 1/4th to 1/7th as fast as non-refrigerated eggs, which while not a safety issue, is a quality issue. The idea that refrigeration somehow reduces quality also seems to lack in credibility, and there is evidence to the opposite.

I think our recommendations are just fine, although we can note that short term storage at room temperature, if the eggs will be used rapidly, is acceptable assuming the shells are not damaged.

  • The evidence is overwhelming that the US safety practices for eggs are at least no worse than those in Europe not counting Sweden, where eggs are washed. citation please. If the european egg farms are generally smaller, they'll have lower risk of contamination, and would not require as aggressive safety standards. I hear more food recalls in N.A. than EU. Also, many food ingredients banned in the EU, USDA considers safe. At minimum, this warrants providing both FDA/USDA and EU views in this case. otherwise we're overriding world opinion with that of FDA's without solid evidence. – MandoMando Jun 14 '13 at 20:58
  • Mando, I am not going to give you a citation,. the fact that we don't have general food safety problems caused by eggs proves it. – SAJ14SAJ Jun 14 '13 at 20:59
  • And I never said holding eggs at room temperature was unsafe. I said they don't last as long. – SAJ14SAJ Jun 14 '13 at 21:02
  • ;) I know, I was just pointing out that it was a claim and not solid fact. At least one study finds EU higher recalls than US to bolster the FDA argument. The issue is that we both know that eggs should be safe at room temperature more than two hours, and providing the straight FDA guideline prevents us from suggesting so. – MandoMando Jun 14 '13 at 21:08
  • @MandoMando: I wouldn't have said that "the evidence is overwhelming", but what you're characterizing as a "claim" is really just a neutral observation. The burden of proof is on the one making a claim against the scientific consensus, and there is no strong evidence to suggest that the FDA's recommended practices differ substantially in safety than the EFSA's. Without such evidence, and given that both organizations base their recommendations on scientific research, we have to assume that they are both valid for their own geographical areas. – Aaronut Jun 15 '13 at 14:06

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